Frank Lloyd Wright is probably one of the most famous architects of the 20th Century. The pioneer and champion of Prairie Style architecture (the incorporation of long, horizontal lines to blend the structure in with the landscape) was known for his simple beauty, deft design, and timeless style in the buildings, homes, and furniture that he designed. Many of his homes are highly prized today and people pay millions of dollars to live in them. But what, you might ask, does Frank Lloyd Wright have to do with cars?
Well, Mr. Wright was a connoisseur of design, and cars certainly piqued his fancy. Architect Robert A.M. Stern summed it up best:
"Part of his greatness was the degree to which he was in touch with American life, American psychology and to some extent, the degree to which he was in touch with the 20th Century. We dismiss him as a 19th Century figure often. It’s easy to do that. But he understood the car. He understood the modern workplace." (source: PBS)
While most people will note that he designed the interior for Max Hoffman's Manhattan Mercedes-Benz dealership and consider that the extent of interest in cars, Wright also owned some interesting cars and even had a hand in restyling some automobiles. Unfortunately, his deft touch at creating futuristic and exciting buildings did not carry over to his car designs.
One of the cars that he purchased after he had established himself was a 1929 Cord L-29 Cabriolet that he had painted in a bright orange hue he called Taliesin Orange (a color he used on many of his cars). Wright like the Cord for it innovative technology (front wheel drive) and attractive style. It wasn't until the Lincoln Continental came out in 1939 that Wright created his most, eh, memorable design of his own on a car.
The Continental was new and stylish looking, futuristic and practical. It was the automotive embodiment of Wright's own designs. In modifying it, Wright, ironically, took the design a few steps backwards from Bob Gregorie European styling. Starting with a 1940 Continental Coupe, he completely eliminated that rear greenhouse by sealing up the rear window and creating small half-circles out of the once expansive rear quarter panel windows. To open the car up, literally and figuratively, Wright lopped off a section of the roof, creating a sort of landau coupe (what what we would today call 'T-Tops' or 'Targa'). He also chopped the windshield down slightly to give the car a more low slung look, but did not lower the rear profile at all. In addition to the design changes, he painted the car the same bright shade of orange as his Cord. The sum of all this work, however, creates a very closed-in, somewhat hump-backed car that would give rear passengers a certain measure of claustrophobia. Beside that, it was just plain ugly.
While Wright never did see any success designing cars, his architecture met much success marketing them. The futuristic look of his homes served as the perfect backdrop of Harley Earl's cars of the 1950's, and many ads features Earl's cars in front of Wright's homes. Today, you can see Wright's work all over the world (but especially in Oak Park, IL, which was the location of his home and studio for many years) and new buildings built to resemble his seminal classics. His Cord is on permanent display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, IN.